The Muscle Typology of Elite and World-Class Swimmers

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Bellinger, Phillip
Lievens, Eline
Kennedy, Ben
Rice, Hal
Derave, Wim
Minahan, Clare
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Purpose: To examine whether the muscle typology of elite and world-class swimmers could discriminate between their best distance event, swimming stroke style, or performance level. Methodology: The muscle carnosine content of 43 male (860 [76] FINA [Fédération Internationale de Natation] points) and 30 female (881 [63] FINA points) swimmers was measured in the soleus and gastrocnemius by proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy and expressed as a carnosine aggregate Z score (CAZ score) to estimate muscle typology. A higher CAZ score is associated with a higher estimated proportion of type II fibers. Swimmers were categorized by their best stroke, distance category (sprinters, 50–100 m; middle distance, 200–400 m; or long distance, 800 m–open water), and performance level (world-class, world top 10, or elite and world top 100 swimmers outside of the world top 10). Results: There was no significant difference in the CAZ score of sprint- (−0.08 [0.55]), middle- (−0.17 [0.70]), or long-distance swimmers (−0.30 [0.75], P = .693). World-class sprint swimmers (all strokes included) had a significantly higher CAZ score (0.37 [0.70]) when compared to elite sprint swimmers (−0.25 [0.61], P = .024, d = 0.94). Breaststroke swimmers (0.69 [0.73]) had a significantly higher CAZ score compared to freestyle (−0.24 [0.54], P < .001, d = 1.46), backstroke (−0.16 [0.47], P = .006, d = 1.42), and butterfly swimmers (−0.39 [0.53], P < .001, d = 1.70). Furthermore, within the cohort of breaststroke swimmers, there was a significant positive correlation between FINA points and CAZ score (r = .728, P = .011); however, this association was not evident in other strokes. Conclusion: While there was no clear association between muscle typology and event distance specialization, world-class sprint swimmers possess a greater estimated proportion of type II fibers compared to elite sprint swimmers, as well as breaststroke swimmers compared to freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly swimmers.

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International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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© 2022 Human Kinetics. This is the author-manuscript version of this paper. Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. Please refer to the journal website for access to the definitive, published version.
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Exercise physiology
Clinical sciences
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Sports science and exercise
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Bellinger, P; Lievens, E; Kennedy, B; Rice, H; Derave, W; Minahan, C, The Muscle Typology of Elite and World-Class Swimmers, International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2022